Remember when: 1950, new municipal stadium

Published 3:00 am Saturday, September 2, 2017

     “I love those dear hearts and gentle people who live in my hometown, because those dear hearts and gentle people will never ever let you down.”

This song made popular by Bing Crosby in 1950 says it all! Why right here in Andalusia, the city council headed by Mayor Tracy B. Wilder pushed ahead in this post World War II period with all kind of building projects going on including the two “little” classroom buildings at East Three Notch and Church Street Schools, the Covington County Training School, and the new City Municipal Stadium that was completed in the spring of 1950.

The fall football season always creates a lot of enthusiasm around town and in the county. Even The Evergreen Courant, September 28, 1950 edition featured an article about Andalusia’s new stadium.
“The Aggies will play tomorrow night in a stadium that ranks with the best in the state when they go upon the turf of the Municipal Stadium in Andalusia. The City of Andalusia completed the stadium last spring at a cost of $150,000. No need in telling you the $150,000. is a lot of coin, but from all reports, the money was well-spent. The stadium has concrete seats for several thousand. Temporary bleachers on the visitor’s side of the field will seat several hundred more. Included in the layout, without conflict, are a baseball field, track and football field. The field is lighted by the newest type system with the light posts back on the stands giving spectators a clear view of the field. The lighting system is equaled in few of the state’s larger stadia. A number of local fans took advantage of last Friday’s open date on the Aggie schedule and went over for a look at the Andalusia team and at the new stadium. All of them came back raving about the stadium.”

From the August 1950 Andalusia Star-News comes this information. “First game of the season will be against Red Level here on Friday night, September 15. Plans are being made to ready the new Andalusia stadium for football. The practice field is being used for warm-up sessions. Some 45 candidates for the 1950 edition of the AHS football team are busy in 2-a-day workouts that Coaches Bill Stanford and H. M. McInnish plan from now until September. By edict of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, there will be no scrimmages and no pads used prior to the first day of next month (September). Workouts have been confined to running, passing, and punting with some special studies made of formations.”

Looking back at July and August of 1950 in the Star-News archives, there is good evidence of the new stadium being used for other community events.

Andalusia Jaycees will sponsor a matinee (3 p.m.) and a night presentation (8 p.m.) by Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys from the Grand Old Opry at the new Andalusia Stadium on September 27.”

“What more than 1,200 persons saw at the Municipal Stadium on Monday night was that Andalusia has its quota of beautiful and charming young ladies. The ‘big athletic bowl’ that is Andalusia’s pride was literally overflowing with pulchritude. We had many maids, 32 in all, vying for the county title, Maid of Cotton, and everyone was a queen. (Winner was Miss Betty Jo Gunnels, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Cleve Curl.)”

“So well pleased was the crowd between 700 and 800 who attended the AHS Bulldog Band Open Air Concert on Tuesday night at the new stadium. The director’s podium was placed on home plate with the band members, 55 strong, seated between the first and third base lines between home plate and the pitcher’s box. Cheers filled the stadium when the band struck ‘Dixie.’ The Arrows did not play at home on this night.”(The Arrows had been playing on the baseball field of the new stadium all summer long.)

“A boost has been given to a regular fare of summer stadium musical programs next year. The idea is still in the planning stage, but school authorities and Bandmaster Dan Hanna are enthusiastic about the prospects. The chief hurdle to be overcome will be the pre-scheduling of programs far enough in advance for band members to be able to participate in the concerts without interrupting vacations.”

“The concert was free. The bandsmen had spent the past week at Perdido Beach for a summer camp. A strict camp routine was followed. Members of the Band Parents Club convoyed the campers by auto and chaperoned.”

     “ ‘Steamboat Johnson’ whose colorful umpiring was for many years a drawing card in the Southern League will come to Andalusia to officiate at the All-Star game on the night of July 10, 1950. A colorful baseball character, ‘Steamboat’ will be the featured speaker at the Kiwanis Club luncheon next Monday. Many major league team scouts are expected in Andalusia to see the ‘cream of the crop’ in the ASL perform in the Municipal Stadium.”

     Reid Merrill of the Andalusia Manufacturing and Andalusia Development once told me that at the time when his companies built the Andalusia High School building in the late 1930, there was a big gulley in the back of the property that later was transformed into the stadium in 1950. He further stated that a family that had been living in a cave in the gulley during the Depression!

A bronze plaque that used to be affixed to the wall at the parking lot/ticket window entrance was inscribed: MUNICIPAL STADIUM, 1950, BUILT THROUGH THE COOPERATION OF T. B. WILDER, MAYOR; COUNCIL, J. F. Colquet, G. G. Dunn, John G. Wright, C. C. Bass, Lamon Fowler; SCHOOL BOARD, W. H. Albritton, L. E. Brown, Mrs. C. H. Chapman, J. A. Thompson, J. V. Bell; RECREATION BOARD, M. J. Newberry, C. C. Bass, J. A. Thompson, Eugene Shreve, Raymond Shreve; ENGINEERS – BUILDERS, McDonald, Hooper, and DeJarnette.

Other goings-on in the community cause us to REMEMBER WHEN Andalusia and Covington County were recovering from those years of World War II, but getting into the Korean conflict that started in June 1950.

48 Covington County youths are receiving ‘Greetings’ ordering them to report for pre-induction physical examinations into the Armed Forces, the local draft board announced through Mrs. Eleanor Windham, clerk.”

     Star News Editor Ed Dannelly penned these words. “The sweeping rains of the first half of the week have delayed cotton picking. The peanut crop can use more dampness. What hurts cotton at this time helps peanuts. It is mighty difficult not to find a silver lining somewhere.”

Newspaper advertisements from 1950 appeared as follows: “At the Mid-Way Drive-In Theatre, Located Halfway Between Opp and Andalusia, Show Starts at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m., Admission 39 cents, Children under 12 Free when accompanied by adults.”

When I ride by that drive-in site in Sanford today, I remember going to the drive-in with my parents when I was a child and getting eaten up by mosquitoes! The film I remember well was an Esther Williams swimming movie.

“Highest Market Price for Hogs and Cattle – See Me Before You Sell – Robert O’Neal Stock Yard at Beesley Packing Co. on River Falls Rd.”

     “Ambulance – Foreman Funeral Home, Phone 595” (My family has moving pictures from 1951 when my mother was brought home from the hospital in the Foreman Funeral ambulance after having been hospitalized for two weeks recovering from childbirth of baby #2, Sally Tucker Bass! Back then the doctors had the mothers lie flat on their backs in the bed for two weeks after giving birth!!)

Mrs. Walter Merrill announces the opening of her dancing class on Tuesday, September 5, 1950. Ray’s Recreation Hall, Classes in Tap and Ballet, Phone 564-J”

Mary Jim Hilson Merrill was the wife of football great, Walter Oliver Merrill, who played at AHS and for the University of Alabama when Paul “Bear” Bryant was an assistant coach. Bryant who coached Merrill for 3 years stated, “Walter was one of our great players, a great person and a warm friend of mine.” Injuries received while playing service ball during World War II contributed to his untimely death at the age of 35 in 1953.

Prior to her family’s move to Andalusia, Mary Jim Hilson was graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in 1938. She and Zelda Fitzgerald took dancing lessons together in Montgomery. The Hilsons moved to Andalusia in 1939 when Merrill’s father Joe Hilson became the manager of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. The Hilson family resided on the corner of Third Avenue and College Street. After Mary Jim and Walter married, they built a house behind the Hilsons facing College Street where the Heenan Spurlins live today. Employed with the family construction business, the Andalusia Manufacturing Company, Walter was instrumental in organizing and building St. Mary’s Episcopal Church that was originally located on Second Avenue and later moved to East Three Notch Street.

   U of A Coach Frank Thomas stated that Walter was among three outstanding players on Alabama’s team on New Year’s day in the 1938 Rose Bowl loss to California. “Big Walt is the best offensive tackle I have ever coached,” Thomas said.

Walter Merrill is the only Andalusian to ever play football in a Rose Bowl game. His portrait hangs in the Three Notch Museum on Historic Central Street. He is truly one of our hometown “Boys of Fall.” Does anyone REMEMBER WHEN football was not king in Andalusia?